Boris Johnson calls for end to Black Lives Matter protestors ‘flouting social distancing’
Boris Johnson has said he will not approve of protestors “flouting social distancing” after a weekend of activism over systemic racism in the UK, amid a call from government for the end of any violent action and breaching of rules designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Around 200 protests took place across the UK over the weekend, with the majority passing peacefully while expressing defiant opposition to racial inequality that persists in British society – part of a global call to arms following the death of American George Floyd in the city of Minneapolis at the hands of a police office.
However focussing on violence in London, which saw 35 officers injured, and vandalism as seen in the tearing down of a statue to slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, the prime minister has urged an end to any conflict and said he “will not support those who flout social distancing” while claiming violence undermined the black lives matters movement “in the eyes of many who might otherwise be sympathetic”.
Mr Johnson – who has been criticised for his language in relation to minority groups in the past – went on to admit there is more to do in tackling inequality while touting the diversity of his own ministers.
“I am proud to lead the most ethnically diverse government in the history of this country, with two of the four great offices of state held by a man and a woman of Indian origin”, he said, while adding that he was equally pleased with his work to recruit and promote “more young black people, in the police and other walks of life”.
Speaking from Downing Street, he also invoked the anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush, which brought some 500 Jamaican men, women, and children to the UK to help rebuild the country after the Second World War – saying “today, once again, we face a great task: to relaunch this country after Coronavirus”.
The Windrush generation has since been a source of scandal for the Conservative party, with many who were granted citizenship as a result of their work in repairing the nation later wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and wrongly deported as part of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.
In a recorded statement initially published in Afro-Caribbean weekly newspaper The Voice, he said: “The death of George Floyd took place thousands of miles away – in another country, under another jurisdiction – and yet we simply cannot ignore the depth of emotion that has been triggered by that spectacle, of a black man losing his life at the hands of the police.
“In this country and around the world his dying words – I can’t breathe – have awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law.
“And we who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.
He went on to argue the country had “made huge strides” since the rise of the National Front 1970s, while stating “I truly believe that we are a much, much less racist society than we were, in many ways far happier and better”.
However acknowledging remaining prejudice, he added: “You are right, we are all right, to say Black Lives Matter; and to all those who have chosen to protest peacefully and who have insisted on social distancing – I say, yes of course I hear you, and I understand.
“But I must also say that we are in a time of national trial, when for months this whole country has come together to fight a deadly plague. After such sacrifice, we cannot now let it get out of control.
“It is BAME communities who have been at the forefront of the struggle against coronavirus – whether in health care or transport or social care or any of the other essential services that have kept our country going. And it is BAME communities, tragically, that have paid a disproportionate price.
“So no, I will not support those who flout the rules on social distancing, for the obvious reason that we risk a new infection at a critical time and just as we have made huge progress. And no, I will not support or indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public monuments.
“We have a democracy in this country. If you want to change the urban landscape, you can stand for election, or vote for someone who will”.